Apprenticeship roundtable meeting
Apprenticeship roundtable meeting at the Greenwich Apprenticeship Summit

Published: Thursday, 15th February 2024

The Royal Borough of Greenwich, local educators and employers are calling for urgent reforms to the apprenticeship system to widen access to apprenticeships for both learners and employers.

Leader of the Council, Cllr Anthony Okereke, Cabinet Member for Inclusive Economy, Business and Skills, Cllr Mariam Lolavar and Clive Efford MP, sent a letter to the Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships, and Higher Education, Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, during National Apprenticeship Week, calling for these changes to be made. The letter was written following a cross-sector apprenticeship roundtable meeting with leading representatives from education and skills organisations. It highlights the key issues with the system and sets out six policy reforms the programme needs to succeed.  

Councillor Mariam Lolavar said: “Apprenticeships are one of the most effective ways of boosting social mobility and creating an inclusive economy, where everyone has the opportunity to secure a good job. Not least, young people who are not currently in education, employment or training, among whom we have seen a sharp decline in apprenticeships starts. Strategic action is needed to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to overcome the financial barriers to accessing and remaining in apprenticeships, such as low levels of pay. Crucially, the system also needs to offer greater flexibility to businesses, particularly in how funding is used.” 

“I hope we will receive a speedy response and the chance to meet with the Minister”. 

Since 2017, the number of young people starting apprenticeships has dropped significantly - by a staggering 85% across councils, a survey by London Councils shows - and many businesses in Royal Greenwich are expecting to return up to 50% of their unspent levy funds to the Treasury. This does not reflect the high demand there is for apprenticeships, showing that there is a misalignment between the resources available and the need from young learners, the letter states.  

The roundtable discussion, held by the Royal Borough of Greenwich, London South East Colleges and Visit Greenwich, during National Apprenticeship Week, brought together the borough’s leading representatives from the education and skills sectors to address these worrying trends. 

Chair of the roundtable, Dr Sam Parrett CBE, Group Chair and CEO of London South East Colleges, said: “As a Further and Higher Education college, we know how important high-quality apprenticeships are, and the huge benefits they provide to apprentices, employers and the local and regional economy. 

“Working collaboratively with business leaders and Local Authorities is essential here, enabling us all to ensure the right skills are being delivered to meet the current and future need of industry. 

“Last week’s roundtable discussion was of great value, identifying areas where policy reform is needed to ensure a more effective and supportive system for the successful delivery of apprenticeships. 

“We urge Ministers to carefully consider the points raised. We look forward to continuing working closely with our partners and offering people across the borough, and beyond, the best possible access to employment and careers.” 

[Read the letter] 

The recommendations are: 

1. Make the apprenticeship levy system more flexible 

Collaborate with industry stakeholders and local authorities to assess the current apprenticeship levy system and develop effective mechanisms for encouraging employers to invest in apprenticeships.  

2. Establish new funding rules for priority groups  

Enable a more flexible use of Levy funds to contribute towards the wage costs of new apprentices to include care leavers and people with learning and physical disabilities.  

3. Promote equitable access  

Review and revise apprenticeship standards to make them more accessible and attractive to 16- to 24-year-olds, and ensure they do not disproportionately favour older, more experienced workers. As part of this, increase the number of Level 2 apprenticeship standards available.  

4. Protect child benefit payments for families of young people starting an apprenticeship  

Extend child benefit to the parents of apprentices. Currently families are being penalised if their child wants to do an apprenticeship as their child benefits are automatically removed. Also ensure that young apprentices are eligible for the financial support and bursaries that Further Education students are.  

5. Provide targeted funding for pre-apprenticeship training  

Support for smaller providers, including councils, to deliver this type of training, acknowledging their success in nurturing young talent and supporting them in their transition to apprenticeships and careers.  

6. Reinstate incentives to SMEs looking to take on apprentices  

For example, covering initial start-up costs, like in the Kickstart Scheme. One of the most significant barriers SMEs face is the challenge of navigating the complexity of the landscape related to providers, standards, and funding. The Government should consider funding local brokerage services to support SMEs to navigate the system